Lehigh Valley

Panto delivers state of the city, says growth is on a roll

EASTON, Pa. - Recapping a year of decreasing crime and increasing development, Easton Mayor Sal Panto laid out his state of the city Wednesday night to city council, predicting more growth not only downtown but in the West Ward.

The downtown has already seen three new businesses pop up so far this year, and Panto said 17 more are coming and have already signed leases.

One of those places, Billy's Downtown Diner, next to city hall, is now planning to open this summer, Panto said.
In the West Ward, Panto said there were positive signs of change and the growth.

"We see significant increase in the West Ward neighborhood -- more in the last six months than in the past six years," Panto said.

New housing is also planned with a story-building on Walnut Avenue. The next door four-story building is undergoing restoration, he said.

And three of the newest restaurants are not downtown but in the West Ward, the mayor said.

Panto said the wave of foreclosures that swept through the city in 2008 through 2010 is starting to reverse itself with more and more vacant properties being sold to developers.

There are a number of other major projects on the horizon in the city, not counting the $70 million science building project planned on the campus of Lafayette College, or the $100 million DaVinci Center's Science City project in downtown Easton, down the block from City Hall, on the site of the Days Inn -- which is scheduled to be demolished by next year.

Council, in connection with the project, approved hotel, marketing and parking studies during its regular meeting.
While work continues on the new headquarters for city police, police are planning to move in in September, freeing them from the cramped station on South Third Street.

But work on the new Fourth Street Garage will not start this year, Panto said.

As he has in previous years, Panto lamented the state of the city's unfunded pension liabilities and salary and benefit expenses -- expenses that he said outpace growth and cannot be brought into line without pension reform by the state legislature.

"The math doesn't work," Panto said.

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